The “behind the scenes” look at the Ed Sullivan Show in Sidereal Days is based on photographs and descriptions supplied by such informed “we were there,” rock & rollers as Ringo Starr and Jerry Allison, the great Cricket (Buddy Holly and the…) drummer. The various biographies of Buddy Holly provided written and photographic documentation of his two appearances on the show, and The Beatles Anthology is rich with similar data and accounts of their first appearance on the show. (The 73 million viewers in 1964 would be the equivalent of 146 million viewers in 2012. Even the viewership of the Superbowl doesn’t come close to that.)
Ed Sullivan himself is a vivid and familiar figure but a great plus for me in researching the Ed Sullivan material for the book was to see in person appearances by Ed Sullivan and his number 2 man, son-in-law Bob Precht, in the movie Bye, Bye Birdie. I had to scrub the initial description of Precht I’d written because I’d made it up. Figured no one would know or care what he actually looked like. Bob Precht’s brief, fortuitous appearance was the only good thing about that otherwise execrable movie.
The dilapidated state of the production equipment used on the show and described in the book is accurate. Most of it, painted in clumsy khaki, was military surplus. The high drum riser that makes it impossible, during the rehearsals, for Billy Tuck to hear his band-mates actually happened to Jerry Allison when Buddy Holly and the Crickets appeared on the show. The Crickets appeared and performed with that handicap. The Sparrows explain things to the set designer (who was the actual set designer) Bill Bohnert. Bohnert muses aloud about an earlier drummer whose complaints about the same issue were disregarded. He’s thinking of Jerry Allison.
All the incidents and preparations described in Sidereal Days were fact-based and realistic. The man who chauffeured the Sparrows around, “Louis Savarese” was a real person and an actual chauffeur. His appearance in Sidereal Days and his claim to fame is the fact that in February 1964, it was Louis Savarese who chauffeured The Beatles aroundNew York.
Speaking of The Beatles… While their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show is pretty familiar to most of us and has been seen by most of us somewhat recently, it’s a real education to see a rerun of the ENTIRE Ed Sullivan Show. We hear what a jolt the appearance of The Beatles was to the culture of the day. But to see their performance in the context of the rest of the show—including the TV ads and the other acts—is to witness one era being snapped shut like a cheap suitcase and carried out the door. An amazing and instantaneous transformation.